PROVO — It’s an intense, pressure-packed quarterback battle with a lot at stake. It's the most intriguing issue surrounding BYU's fall camp. And it's captured the full attention of Cougar Nation.
But 18-year-old Zach Wilson isn't caught up in the speculation and hype. He's all about competing, not the competition.
“I’m just focused on myself. I mean, I really don’t have much to lose. I’m 18 years old,” Wilson said Monday. “I just come out and do me, not worry about anybody else. I’m not trying to do more than I’m capable of doing, and just let the coaches decide.”
Wilson, a freshman who graduated early from Corner Canyon High and participated in spring ball, continues to vie for the starting QB job. The Cougars open the season Sept. 1 at Arizona.
During Monday’s media viewing portion of practice, Wilson, who turns 19 this month, looked impressive as he took reps along with senior Tanner Mangum. Freshman Jaren Hall, who recently returned home from an LDS mission, also took reps. But the third candidate in the QB race, Joe Critchlow, did not take any 11-on-11 snaps.
Based on that, it would be easy to surmise that the competition for the starting job has been narrowed down to Mangum and Wilson.
However, asked if anything could be read into Critchlow’s lack of reps, offensive coordinator Jeff Grimes said, “No, you can’t read anything into that. We’re putting different guys with different groups at different times on different days. One day, someone might be going with the first group and the next day it might be somebody else. We’re just working a rotation.”
Grimes added that there had been no changes with the depth chart at quarterback, as of Monday.
Wilson, who is confident and possesses polished mechanics as a quarterback, is working to prove himself every day.
“It’s up to the coaches. They’re going to play the best player,” he said. “You don’t whine or pout about it. Every play they give you, you do the best you can.”
In terms of his performance with the offense, Wilson said, “I’ve got to give credit to my whole team, right? It’s just execution across the board. We’ve been installing the same offense since spring, so coming out, the coaches expected us to know what we’re doing. I think we’ve executed well.”
While Wilson is one of the youngest players on the team, he’s comfortable being a team leader at a high-profile position like quarterback after having arrived on campus last January.
“I think spring ball kind of handled the whole thing with coming in. I made a lot of friends, and once you get close to your friends, no matter what, you have no problem in telling them what to do,” he said. “That played a huge part, getting to know them. Coming out here on the field, you don’t even think about it. You treat them like anybody else.”
Wilson calls enrolling early “the best decision I ever made. I learned the offense at the same time as everybody else. The comfort level is huge because I know exactly what is going on with the offense.”
From the beginning, Wilson said, he’s felt at home in the program and with his teammates.
“They’re all so cool, whether they’re a senior or a freshman. Everybody treats each other the same. It’s definitely a brotherhood here. Ever since the first day I got here, guys were trying to talk to you and get to know you. It’s how it should be.”
Since spring ball, Wilson has worked with former BYU star quarterback John Beck, who has helped Wilson make his "biggest jump” when it comes to improvement.
“This summer I was training with John Beck down in California. I was going down there about once a month,” Wilson said. “He knows what he’s talking about. He played here at BYU. Technique-wise, he knows exactly what’s going on. I feel like I made huge strides in the technique of my throwing, even with my feet, by learning stuff from him.”
Wilson is well-aware of the history and tradition of the quarterback position at BYU and the prestigious line of QBs who have become stars and legends in Provo.
But he’s not thinking about that.
“It’s awesome. BYU is known for QBs. You just want to do the best you can, I guess,” Wilson said. “You really don’t think about it too much. I mean it’s a cool past, but you have to do the best you can with what we have going on here.”
Wilson originally committed to Boise State, but he de-committed and decided to re-open his recruitment. When BYU hired Grimes as offensive coordinator last December, Grimes targeted Wilson and started recruiting him immediately. Shortly thereafter, Wilson signed with the Cougars.37 comments on this story
While much is made of BYU’s quarterback battle, Wilson said he’d be competing for a starting job no matter where he would have ended up.
“Any school I would go to there would be a quarterback battle. If you show the coaches you can do something, even if you’re expected to redshirt and not even play, if you show them you can do something, you’re always going to be in a quarterback battle. You kind of take every day like, OK, I’m going to give it everything I got today and let the coaches decide. If you’re doing well, they’ll move you up.”